Migrant Crisis Forum: The EU Refugee Crisis as an Existential Crisis

While attending the Migrant Crisis Forum a couple of weeks ago I also got the chance to hear a talk given on the well publicized EU refugee crisis. The speaker was making the argument that the crisis is an existential crisis for both the refugees and the EU.

For the EU this meaning revolves around rule of law and the protection of human rights; the recent condemnation of the EU in their handling of this crisis makes their failure to respond evident. It is important to also note that prior to the current refugee crisis the EU had a glowing record in the area of human rights. In fact, in 2012 the EU won a noble prize for upholding human rights and the laws that protect those rights.

Recently the EU has faced the most condemnation for their decision to formulate an agreement with Turkey. This embrace of Turkey, which lacks the EU’s record as far as human rights are concerned and is in no way an established safe haven for these refugees, reflects poorly on the EU as a whole, and goes against the very laws that they have perviously been lauded for upholding.

A key point in these UN and EU laws that this new agreement with Turkey has tossed to the wolves is the every so important concept that there can be “no collective explosion”. According to this new agreement, and demonstrated through the implementation of this agreement, there is clearly collective explosion. Those refugees on Lesbos have gone from staying in refugee camps that were a stepping stone to freedom in the EU to staying in fenced and guarded detention camps.

Another point in EU and UN laws that is meant to protect refugees states that a refugee can’t be returned to the place from which they are seeking refuge. The EU has a set number of refugees they are taking in from Turkey; in return the EU will pay 3.3 billion dollars. The refugees that the EU will take will come from Turkey, not from places like Lesbos; people have risked life an limb in an attempt to get closer to entering the EU now risk being sent back to places like Syria which is a clear violation of not only EU and UN laws, but Turkish laws as well.

To those who argue that refugees aren’t being sent back, Amnesty International has fully documented many cases of entire families being returned to the very places they risked everything to flee from.

To make maters even worse these detention centers found on Lesbos are denying NGOs and other non-profit groups access to help these individuals not only deserving, but also desperate for help.

In closing the speaker made the statement that given the domestic pressures in the EU one could easily surmise that the EU has outsourced its refugee crisis to Turkey. Personally I entirely agree with that statement, and if the outsourcing of a  human refugee crisis like a complicated computer algorithm doesn’t represent an existential crisis I hate to think what crisis would.

Arabic Talent Show Spring 2015

This semester attending the Arabic Talent show was quiet the adventure. Although I didn’t get the chance to be as involved in the show as last semester, I was still dying to go. My class was singing a traditional Egyptian song ( that was meant to be sung to a child), a couple of my friends were doing some interesting skits or reading poetry, and one of the clubs I was part of had video taped a short play that I had gotten the chance to help write the script of.

Of course when the 29th actually rolled around not everything went exactly as planned. Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, there had been a buzz all over campus of the chance that classes would be canceled because of a tornado. On Friday there was no buzz; I think I might have heard someone mention a severe thunderstorm, but that was it.

My Friday was all set out to be really busy. I had classes, the talent show, and the  Air Force military ball that I was attending for ROTC; everything was back to back, and I had already organized my schedule so I knew what time I needed to be where….. and then the alarms went off.

At first I thought it was a drill, because there wasn’t supposed to be any tornados. I thought about just siting there, and seeing what happened. I was going to check the weather online when I received a panicked call from my mother insisting that I follow any instructions and get my butt to wherever it need to be.

I did end up checking the weather, and taking cover. When it was all over though my schedule was a mess the talent show had “started” 10 minutes ago, I didn’t have my uniform where it was supposed to be, and my carefully configured plans of an hour ago where utterly screwed.

Nonetheless, I threw on my perviously decided upon outfit, adding a raincoat, and headed over to the talent show. There was quiet a bit of water on the road, and it proved a little difficult to make it to the building, but make it I did.

I got to eat some fantastic Mediterranean food, I sung Mama Zaminha Gaya, and I got to watch a couple of my friends before it was time to leave for the military ball. Everyone who did show up was there because they truly enjoyed the show, and what it means to all the students who spend there time learning this lanuage. Compared to the challenges you can find learning Arabic a little bad weather is nothing.

Migrant Crisis Forum: Africa

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Migrant Crisis Forum held by OU. There were several speakers two of which discusses the migration crisis stemming from Africa. Given the publicity surrounding the Syrian migrant crisis, it was interesting to hear about other areas of the world that may have missed the lime light yet, have a disturbing migrant crisis.

On of the speakers focused specifically on refugees from the horn of Africa, and their subsequent journey to Europe. He honed in on the tiny country of Eritrea. Located in the horn of Africa, this small country had the fourth most refugees in Europe in 2015. The question after such a statistic is clearly why are so many people leaving Eritrea?

Historically Eritrea and neighboring Ethiopia have been very close. In the 1900s the Italians colonized Eritrea; they were then defeated by the Ethiopians whom absorbed Eritrea. Eritrea was subsequently freed, and established their own country. However; everything changed following the outbreak of a border dispute which then lead to a border war between the two countries.

In the late 1990s, the border war was resolved yet, into the 2000s the border remains highly militarized. Due to this militarization all citizens must enlist, and during this time in service they do not get paid. As well as being forced to serve for no pay, the military offers no opportunities to advance through the ranks. In fact, the UN has looked at this forced labor as a crime against humanity.

The decision to leave is understandable looking at the bleak picture of forced labor, no training, no pay, and little to to opportunities to advance. When individuals make this decision the question is then how do they go about getting to the EU?

There are several different routes taken. A significant amount of to Israel, but more head to Sudan or Ethiopia. Once arriving they pay smugglers to bring them across the Mediterranean. If a parent is caught sending their children  across the border by the government they can punished. Due to the forced military conscriptions, Eritrean citizens are granted political asylum if they successfully arrive in the EU. However, in the years to come this could change.

The Sweds recently published a report the questioning the legitimacy of the Eritreans receiving asylum. The report claimed that citizens could be leaving in an effort to improve their lives economically speaking instead of fleeing an oppressive government. Furthermore, the report raised the issue of Ethiopians migrating to the EU and claiming political asylum by posing as Eritrean citizens.

The 2015 migration high from Eritrea is due to both the general instability in the region, and the specific circumstances faced by Eritrean citizens. The speaker made the argument that if these individuals qualify for political asylum then should they truly have to make an illegal journey?

The Iranian American Identity

A few months ago I attended a lecture given by Cyrus Copeland. In his lecture Copeland discussed certain historical aspects concerning US-Iranian relations, and the impact this has on the formation of the identity of those from both American and Iranian decent such as himself. As an Iranian-American, Copeland was uniquely qualified to give a lecture on the topic.

As a child, Copeland grew up in Iran. It seamed he led a relatively normal childhood. His mother was a principle at a school; he had friends, and he attend school like any other young boy. However, at the age of 16 Iranian officials accused his  American father of working for the CIA. His mother defended her husband as his lawyer, which was highly unusual at the time. Despite her efforts Copeland’s father was put to death, and his family was forced to leave Iran.

To be honest, I found it amazing a man so closely involved in such a horrific break down of international relations could so quickly summarize events which clearly would have had a large impact on his life in such a short time. Copeland didn’t tell us whether or not his father really was a CIA agent; he spent sometime himself tracking down his father’s past, and wrote a book about it. I have definitely added his book “Off the Radar:..” to my reading list.

He spent the rest of the lecture discussing this idea of Iranian- American versus Persian. Copeland likened children of Iranian- American decent to the children of a really bad divorce. In a way, this comparison made perfect sense to me. As countries, there is little love lost between America and Iran; if someone can legitimately call both places home,  it seems to me the analogy of divorced parents makes perfect sense.

Therefore in the case of the Iranian-American child what identity do they embrace? Copeland discussed that many turn toward another option. Instead of identifying themselves American-Iranian, they identify themselves as Persian. Iran is situated on what once was the center of the Persian Empire, but why identify with a nation state that hasn’t existed in hundreds of years?

The answer is simple enough when thinking about the connotations of the title “Iranian- American”. In both Iran and America such a title might arouse suspicion. In America there is a hatred and dislike for Iran, due to its long history as an enemy state of America. In fact, Iran has been the CIA’s top inquiry list for 30 years; in Iran the sentiment isn’t much different. Many Iranian families harbor anger towards the U.S. for the way Iran was handled.

The idea of Persian though has an entirely different connotation in the greater minds of both countries. In Iran, it represents a proud golden age of history, and in the U.S. the Persian Empire is revered, respected, and romanized. Copeland challenged those of Iranian- American decent to embrace this true identity regardless of the uncomfortable nature of such a title. He described Persian as a defensive title that people can hide behind, and he challenged those of Iranian- American decent to acknowledge this uncomfortableness in a way to form a new future in U.S. -Iranian relations.

Learning Beginning Arabic: A Student’s Perspective

As a high school junior planning on majoring in Arabic I did a lot of research into well know colleges that offered degrees in Arabic. Despite my best attempt to educate myself on the world of colligate level Arabic education, it wasn’t until I visited the University of Oklahoma (in the fall of my senior year) that I even knew about the Arabic Flagship Program. The existence of such a program I found both exciting and irritating. Why had this program not shown up when I was researching were I should go to school? The program is very public and well known if you know what to look for. My google searches for “colleges with arabic degree” and “top rated arabic colleges” had missed the key words of Arabic programs. Though my experiences in no way represents the norm, finding a great program in which to study Arabic was definitely my first challenge in my endeavor to learn arabic. In learning about the flagship program I then learned about many different top rated immersive programs across the country. For me the flagship program at OU definitely proved to be the best fit as I am also an AFROTC cadet here at the university.

Overcoming this first huddle doesn’t even begin to address what I am sure one might assume is the main topic of this blog which is of course the challenges involved in the actually learning of the language. While this is only my first year of arabic I thought I would take a minute to address some of the common misconceptions of the language I have personally found inaccurate as well as some of the changes that aren’t so commonly mentioned.

Perhaps the most commonly assumed struggle in learning Arabic, particularly for native english speakers, is the idea of learning how to write in a different alphabet as well as learning to read “backwards”. I would have to say personally for me this is an almost entirely painless process. Training your brain to read the opposite way is really not an issue. By the second week I would find myself reading the english portions of my textbook left to right and the arabic portions right to left quite seamlessly. The arabic letters don’t look read well left to right; its a hard feeling to explain. The best way I can think to explain it is trying to read cursive english backwards. The letters clearly connect from one direction to another and it wouldn’t make sense to try to read those letters opposite of the way they are connect. As for the alphabet, the letters are definitely a strange foreign thing the first couple of weeks, but you use them everyday; they quickly become familiar.

In Flagship you are taught from day one that there are three main dialects, Egyptian, Levantine, and the Modern Standard Arabic. There are of course some similarities, but there are significant differences as well. At the beginning of the program I was giving my self 3 different sets of vocabulary; I quickly ran out of time and energy to keep this up. The book said to choose 2, one of the local dialects and the Modern Standard. My teacher is Egyptian and uses the dialect frequently in class so naturally I choose Egyptian. The issue of choosing which of the dialects that you want to study is a well documented issue for all arabic students. If you come into arabic with the expectation that you will try to learn all 3 in tantrum, let me just tell you good luck…. The main issue for me is the fact that while I have become fairly familiar with the Egyptian as an ROTC student the Levantine dialect has more realistic applications. This issue as lead me to choose the Levantine dialect as my focus of study at the intensive summer program at UT I plan on attending this summer.

My suggestion for new Arabic students? Think about what you plan on doing with the language before you begin any program. No matter where you are you can choose your own area to study as nearly every modern Arabic textbook will offer all three. Also keep in mind while there are differences the dialects are defiantly mutually intelligible; the dialects are all part of a single language.

My final suggestion is to learn the culture. As with any foreign language one must understand the culture in order to understand the people. I have found with Arabic in particular many students take the language as resume builder and care little about learning the culture desiring only the ability to translate. There are many, many worlds in arabic that can have drastically different meanings based on the context it is placed in. This makes arabic an especially strong case for the importance of understanding the culture.

In my opinion, Arabic doesn’t warrant its reputation as an incredibly hard language to learn; I took Spanish for four years. While I would say Arabic has been a little more difficult than my experiences in High School Spanish, I would also be sure to mention that in my first semester in Arabic we covered a year of what I learned in Spanish 1. It is a language that takes time, as with any language, you have to be willing to put in the time. I have found my experiences in my first Arabic incredibly rewarding; looking at my homework half way through my first semester and realizing I had written a page of Arabic with complete sentences I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I look forward to more moments like that and I to facing the many new challenges I am sure to find ahead